Picture it: Celtic Britain, circa 60 CE, in what is now Norfolk in eastern England. The unstoppable Roman Empire is consolidating the conquests begun 17 years earlier by Emperor Claudius. Its capital Camulodunum and vibrant settlements of Londinium and Verulamium lie forebodingly to the south-west. King Prasutagus, ruler of the Iceni and client ally of Rome, is nearing death without a male heir. Aware that Rome will likely seize his small kingdom and with it the nominal freedom of his tribe, Prasutagus, in a fit of wishful thinking, bequeaths half his kingdom to Emperor Nero and the other half to his two daughters. Nero has other ideas. He orders Prasutagus’s widow, Queen Boudica, to hand over full control of the kingdom, stripping the Iceni of their ally status for good measure. Boudica refuses. No self-respecting empire would tolerate such an insubordinate move: she is punished with a public flogging and the gang rape of her two teen daughters.
The Celts did not share Rome’s qualms about female leaders. Boudica, like many Celtic women of her time and status, was a trained warrior. Enraged, she mounts a rebellion and leads the charge herself. Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus was son-in-law to the governor in Roman Britain at the time. According to Tactitus’s histories written 20 years or so after the events, Boudica launches an assault first on Camulodunum (Colchester); her troops burn it to the ground leaving no survivors. Next is the heart of Roman Britain: Londinium (London). They leave no-one alive there either. Tacitus doesn’t describe the sacking of Londinium in detail, for that we must turn to Cassius Dio, who wrote some 150 years later:
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